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November 10, 2023: What is wrath and why is it a deadly sin?

Mirriam-Webster defines wrath as a “strong vengeful anger.” Thomas Aquinas wrote that anger “is the name of a passion”, when regulated by reason it may be a good and righteous anger. However, when it blinds the individual setting aside reason, such anger becomes evil. Wrath, then, is the sin whereby hate drowns out reason and is transformed into hate. Hate is anathema to love.

On this very day 85 years ago, the world awoke to Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. In Germany, synagogues, homes, schools, and businesses were vandalized and torched. Over 100 Jews were murdered that night and soon more than 30,000 Jewish men would be arrested and be sent to concentration camps. Then, beginning in December of 1941, the “final solution” was undertaken where six million Jews would be exterminated in camps at Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I never would have believed that near the Opera House in Sydney, Australia hundreds would gather to celebrate the terrorism of October 7th and chant “gas the Jews.” Or that others would gather in the United States and celebrate the atrocities of that night declaring Hamas heroes. One can disagree with the political situation and seek change, but hate should never be given a place in our hearts. Wrath will never achieve justice.

Yet wrath is the currency of our time. Hate—whether spoken by the KKK, those who call for the assassination of police officers, or antisemites—should alike be rebuked. Wrath, however, is not just the sin of our enemy; it is too often present in us. It is important for us to recognize it, confess it, and repent of it. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. …” (Matthew 5:43–45, CSB)

The world wrongly perceives hate as a more powerful weapon than love. But only love can truly bring justice, build community, and find truth. Forty-two days before his assassination, Abraham Lincoln closed his second inaugural with these words:

"With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Those words given to the nation at the end of our most horrific war are words that we should heed as a nation today. But how much more so the Church! There is a righteous anger that sees evil and confronts it. But wrath is truly a deadly sin that only seeks to destroy for it is incapable of creating good.

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